Budget cuts affect class availability

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TOWNSEND HARRIS High School administration faced a crisis this June when the Department of Education changed the policy for allocating money to schools for teachers who teach an additional sixth class; this forced the school to plead with the DOE for extra funding to be able to maintain all the additional classes that the school offered in previous years.

UFT Chairperson Franco Scardino explains that six classes help fill what are called shortage disciplines, or fields that lack the proper amount of teachers in relation to the amount of students who would take those courses. These shortage subjects have historically been math, science, special education, and ESL (English as a Second Language). Recently, physical education, English, and Spanish were added as well. The average school has eight periods, and every teacher is required to have five classes, one lunch period, one study period, and one research period. Since THHS has nine periods instead of eight, teachers are able to teach six periods everyday.

Physics teacher Joshua Raghunath says he enjoys having his sixth class, as he “likes being in the classroom with [the students].” He doesn’t agree with how the better schools get less money from the DOE, saying, “I want [the students] to have more electives.”

Originally, the DOE would have directly supplied the money for the sixth classes that a school needed via a centrally funded budget system. Due to the recent change, schools are now expected to pay for these classes out of their own budget, causing great distress to Budget Director and Assistant Principal Ellen Fee.

According to Ms. Fee, because THHS offers 22 additional classes, the school had to come up with an extra $250,000 to fund those classes. The DOE agreed to provide extra funding if the school agreed to downsize its support staff by one secretary and stock handler, as well as hire an additional English and PE teacher. The DOE provided $180,000 for hiring the two teachers and provided an additional $120,000 to cover the ten classes and requested that the number of these additional classes be reduced by two.

Ten of the 22 additional classes, which are sixth classes, are being covered by two new teachers. Additionally, the request by the DOE caused the school to lose two electives. Math teacher Stephen Mazza lost his Math Team class and had it replaced by a required Algebra Two class. More changes in the math department included the loss of the Advanced Topics One class. Two teachers who were affected by this shift were Math teachers Magda Frankowski and Timothy Connor, who both lost their sixth class.

“I think it’s fair,” Ms. Fee said. However, worries arise as to how the school will pay for those two additional teachers and the ten sixth classes next year if the DOE does not provide the additional $180,000 for the two new teachers again. Ms. Fee is currently working on this task to make sure the school will be able to continue running smoothly next year without losing any more electives.

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